There are a lot of names to know before election day rolls around. Contributor David Hawkings is helping us sort it all out.
The Democrats are the odds-on favorite to win the House this fall. So these days, the real suspense is the campaign for the Senate, where the party has to pick up at least two seats to take control. Until recently, they've had only a few possible blue targets of opportunity. But now there's a big new one, deep in the heart of Texas.
It's by far the largest red state. And voters have a stark choice between two candidates with very different personalities and clearly different ideas of what government should be doing.
Republican Ted Cruz has been one of the most outspoken and combative conservatives in the Senate over the last six years.
And he was runner-up to Donald Trump for the GOP presidential nomination two years ago. Before that, he had spent his adult life as a Supreme Court law clerk, George W. Bush administration lawyer and top courtroom lawyer for the state of Texas.
His challenger is Beto O’Rourke, the congressman from El Paso. He had a more varied career before getting into politics — including live-in nanny, art mover and guitarist in a punk rock band called Foss.
In an important sense, both guys are running nontraditional campaigns. A typical Republican in a reliably red state this year is tying himself closely to Trump, knowing that the key to victory is locking down and firing up the party base.
But Cruz's relationship with the president has been pretty rocky. He called Trump a pathological liar and a sniveling coward in 2016, while Trump nicknamed him Lyin' Ted. Only recently has Trump promised to campaign for Cruz this fall.
A typical Democrat running in a red state is trying to position himself as far to the center as possible, knowing that's the key to picking up GOP votes. But O'Rourke is running as a pretty unabashed liberal.
Cruz backed the Trump tax cut. O'Rourke voted against it. Cruz wants to abolish the federal Department of Education. O'Rourke wants more federal aid to schools.
Cruz urged Trump's decision to get out of the global deal to combat climate change. O'Rourke wants the U.S. to sign back on to the Paris accord.
Cruz supports Trump's border wall and opposes any special treatment for so-called "Dreamers." O'Rourke thinks the wall is a stupid idea and wants to create a path to citizenship for people brought to the U.S. illegally when they were kids.
Cruz led the fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act. O'Rourke wants to beef up Obamacare and has talked about expanding Medicare to include more people.
O'Rourke's bid has included visiting all 254 counties in Texas, posting much of his campaign on Facebook Live — and actually raising more money than Cruz, who seemed to take a while to realize the intensity of his challenge.
Texas hasn't elected any Democrat to a statewide office since 1994 and hasn't sent a Democrat to the Senate in 30 years. Trump won the state by a solid 9 percentage points.
But the demographics of the place are changing. It's inevitably going to become a purple state — thanks to the steady rise of the Latino and big-city voting populations.
If the blue wave reaches Texas this fall, it would be one of the biggest upsets of the midterm elections — and probably means the Senate would be turning Democratic as well.